“Here’s Looking at You”

By Larry John

I am walking down the sidewalk on my way to my hotel room in Lana’i, and as I am walking I pass people going by the other way. I glance up, and as soon as they glance up and look at me, I look the other way. Then as we get closer we both look up again and say, “Good afternoon,” and walk past each other. Why is that? Why can’t I just look at them the whole time I am approaching them? It’s because it is again the law of looking. From the time I was a child I have known that people hate people who stare at them. I could always get my sister to the point of tears by “just looking” at her. We would sit in the back seat of the car with my parents in front and all I would have to do is turn my head and start looking at her and before long she would say, “Stop it!”  “Stop what?”, I would say as if I didn’t know what I was doing and she would rifle back, “Stop looking at me!” Then after several minutes of this back and forth combat she would yell, “Mom, Larry is looking at me,” and my Mother would turn her head and say, “Stop looking at her, Larry” to which I would say, “I’m not looking at her” and my sister would scream, “Oh yes he is. 

Two nights ago I was looking at my wife as she sat reading a book sitting on our couch. I was just looking at her. Finally after 30 seconds or so she looked up to see me looking at her and said “What?” I said, “Nothing. I was just looking at you.” “Why?”, she responded. “No reason,” I said, “I was just looking at you,” to which she responded, “Well stop it.” “Stop what?” I said. “Stop looking at me.” Now she said it with such force that it was like I was doing something wrong. I was just looking at her, but she told me to stop it. Now that struck me a little crazy, because most of our lives most of us try to do things that GET people to look at us. We give our kids tap dancing lessons, so that at the end of the year they can be in a recital and go on stage, so that people will look at them. Actors act, so that people will look at them, but as soon as they are not on stage they want people to stop looking at them. People buy expensive clothes, shoes and jewelry and spend millions on getting their hair done so that people will look at them, but as soon as we do they say, “Stop looking at me.” It’s almost like it hurts if someone looks at you 5-10 seconds too long. It is as though if my eyes and your eyes meet for longer than 5 seconds, it makes us nervous. You can even look at a person’s nose for 5 seconds and they will start wiping it, as if by looking at their nose mire seconds too long they feel there could be an unsightly something dangling there. And all you were doing was looking at their nose. I can imagine Bogart saying the line “Here’s looking at you, kid,” to Bergman and having her say, “Stop it. I don’t want you looking at me; it makes me nervous. If you want to look at something go look at the birds or the flowers, but don’t look at me. I hate it when you look at me. It’s not polite. It is unacceptable. It is just plain wrong.”

I think it could be that looking at each other as we get older may be considered a form of flirting and if we don’t want to be flirted with, we want to limit the amount of “looking time” we will tolerate from another human. It is not just men looking at women. It could be men looking at men, women looking at women, or women looking at men. The fact that we might look at another person too much is just not condoned in our society. It is not just eye-to-eye contact that we can’t stand. I know that if I went around looking at people’s feet all the time, someone would call me a pervert. We know that there are certain portions of the body that you can’t look at too long or they might call the police. The act of looking has with it a time clause. The time limit for looking, I have found, is five seconds or less. If you look someone in the eye for more than five seconds, one of you will start getting uneasy. I bet you that one of you will look away to stop the feeling of terror, but five seconds is the maximum. If you look at a woman’s breasts for over one second you are in real trouble, so, you cheat look. You look like you are not looking. You look, rub your nose, turn your head, and then cheat back and look, being conscious to not exceed the one second rule.

Looking is an art that is developed over a period of time. By the age of five we start to learn the unwritten rules of looking. These rules are definitely learned, not inherently part of being born. Breathing is inherent. Looking rules are learned. It is a leaned system of laws that must be followed if you are to be “looked upon” as good human beings. Well, here’s looking at you, if you will permit me to do so, and I promise not to look too long…. or in the wrong places for that matter. Think about it.